Ars Technica reports on a privacy controversy at Etsy, a site for homemade and vintage goods:
Etsy has decided to stop linking to purchased items in a user’s feedback in response to the chorus of privacy concerns coming from its user base. In a blog post published Tuesday, Etsy CEO Rob Kalin and COO Adam Freed said that the company’s recent rollout of the People Search tool, combined with public feedback, highlighted the need for a reworked feedback system, and that more changes may be on the way.
Etsy had flipped the switch on its new People Search tool last week as part of its effort to make the site into more of a social media platform. When users run a search for a person’s full name, that user’s account will show up in the search results, even if that person is only a buyer. The goal is to allow users to connect to each other and create “Circles,” which then allow users to see which products their friends have marked as favorites or purchased on Etsy.
Problems immediately began popping up. For one, buyers who had entered their full names into their Etsy profiles in the past were not all aware that the information would become public as a result of the People Search rollout. (Etsy claims it notified users, but numerous Etsy users insisted otherwise.) Then, users began noticing that they could easily look up a buyer’s past purchases by searching for their real names, pulling up their profile pages, and examining the feedback left for or by Etsy sellers. Feedback on Etsy has always been public, but the combination of real names plus public feedback suddenly thrust Etsy into the spotlight for not doing enough to protect buyer privacy. […]
The other element of concern from Etsy’s community came from the staff’s apparent unwillingness to take the privacy concerns seriously up to this point. A 120-page thread in Etsy’s forums about the People Search rollout ended up getting locked, and another (now 32-page) thread that specifically asked about privacy went largely ignored. Kalin and Freed didn’t directly address this, but did acknowledge that the community’s trust is important to Etsy and that the company would be listening carefully to user feedback.
“We take privacy very seriously,” the two wrote. “We are deeply sorry for any confusion and will work hard to regain your trust.”